The Benue State killing field, By Yemi Adebowale

Several communities in Guma and Otukpo local government areas of Benue State are still mourning, days after spiteful attacks by terrorists. No fewer than 87 people were killed in the separate attacks by Fulani militias within 48 hours in these LGAs. Kids and pregnant women were not spared by the rampaging terrorists. Clearly, the tears of many of the affected families may never dry.

The terrorists were not in a hurry to leave during that attack in Umogidi Entekpa, Otukpo LG. They spent hours ransacking, killing and maiming. Security agencies refused to respond to distress calls. At the end of the day, 51 innocent souls were sent to the graves by the extremists. Natives of several communities in Guma LG who were forced out of their villages by the Fulani militias, to live in refugee camps at Mgban were also not spared. The IDPs were brutally attacked. At the end of the operation, no fewer than 36 of these hapless people were killed.

For years, Fulani herders in Benue State lived peacefully with the natives in different host communities. They also inter-marry. There were few quarrels and usually quickly resolved. So, what changed eight years ago that turned these brothers to enemies? It was the emergence of Buhari as President who started talking about RUGA, grazing reserves and grazing routes for herders. A large number of herders from other countries also relocated to Benue State. Then, they started demanding unfettered access to farmlands and laying claims to land, resulting in conflicts with the natives. The herders were emboldened by the emergence of their “father” as President. The heavily armed Fulani militias in Benue State move around defending the herders.

Notwithstanding the Special Military Task Force in Benue State charged with dealing with militants, 20 of the LGAs are under the siege of Fulani militias. They enter towns and villages with so much ease, killing and injuring people. The likes of Gwer East, Agatu, Gwer West, Otukpo, Guma, Makurdi, Logo, Ukum, Apa and Katsina Ala are brashly attacked. You wonder where men of the Benue Operation Whirl Stroke are operating from.

Buhari calls for an end to extreme violence in Benue! That was the headline of our President’s response to the latest killings in Benue. His usual rhetoric: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those murdered. The entire nation stands united in the fight against the forces of terror and evil. I urge aggrieved parties to embrace efforts to end this extreme violence.” Thereafter, Buhari condemned the use of terrorism as a tool in inter-communal conflicts, directing that the attackers be found and dealt with swiftly under the law.

That was where Buhari ended his showboating. All motion, no movement. Just as Governor Samuel Ortom rightly pointed out, Buhari has to go beyond offering condolences and ordering security agencies to fish out the killers. The perpetrators of the attacks are known and must be fished out. Regrettably, security agencies are not getting clear instructions to take out these terrorists.

Not even one of the terrorists that killed scores of people in Guma and Otukpo LGAs has been arrested. The main duty of the State is protection of lives. Nigeria has failed the people of Benue State because of crooked and compromised leadership. This is the tragedy of the country called Nigeria. The killings in Guma and Otukpo will not be the last. Terrorists in Nigeria are emboldened because they are hardly made to pay for their atrocities. So, they confidently continue with their carnages.

It is a shame that our compromised President simply took off to Saudi Arabia despite the news of the Benue killings. I thought our President would direct the IG of police and Army Chief to relocate to Benue State and smoke out all those responsible for the odious crime against humanity. It did not happen.

Buhari, for obvious reasons, did not give firm instruction to security agents to take drastic actions against the terrorists in Benue State. They are emboldened by this. The responsibility of the government is to immediately ensure that those who commit dreadful crimes are identified, detained and quickly prosecuted. Unfortunately, a compromised leadership makes it difficult for security agents to act appropriately.

Fulani herders in Benue are persisting with open grazing despite laws passed against it by the state’s government. They are emboldened by Buhari’s support for open grazing. I can clearly remember Buhari in 2021 saying he had approved the recommendations of a committee “to review with dispatch, 368 grazing sites across 25 states in the country and to determine the levels of encroachment.” This prickly move is simply part of Buhari’s contentious pledge to revive strange old-fashioned grazing routes for herders. He is unmoved that legally, there is nothing like grazing sites or routes in Nigeria again.

Today, the document that governs this country called Nigeria is the 1999 Constitution. The law on land matters is the Land Use Act and it is entrenched in the 1999 Constitution. The rule vests all powers on land issues, all over the country, in governors and not the federal government. Governors remain the custodians of land. The President’s power is limited to land in Abuja. Buhari knows this but has chosen to snub this fact for selfish reasons. Grazing sites and grazing routes are now invalid. The Grazing Reserves Law of 1964 has been supplanted by the Land Use Act. Whatever law establishing grazing routes is now obsolete and completely nullified by the operational Land Use Act.

Anybody genuinely interested in ending the brutal clashes between farmers and migrant herders must not be talking about RUGA, grazing sites and routes. Emphasis should be on promoting peace in our lovely country, not fueling our lines of division. Ranching should be on the front burner. Nomadic cattle rearing is an aberration in modern societies. Nigeria can’t be an exception. Buhari should be interested in ranching in the interest of everybody, not advocating the continuation of a Stone Age idea. His support for open grazing is largely responsible for killings in this country. Fulani militias are enjoying a free rein with the tacit support of the powerful leadership in Abuja that controls all the security agencies.

Buhari wants herders to continue moving cattle from Sokoto to Lagos, and beyond, unhindered. This is why huge swathes of this country have become killing fields, as killer herders, claiming a right to unencumbered feeding are cruelly destroying lives and farms. Herders must return to their bases and cuddle ranching.

Open grazing is no longer practicable. Not with the killings, rape, crop destruction, kidnapping, and geographical hegemony that comes with it. The culture of nomadism can be eliminated. Lee Kuan Yew proved this in Singapore. Late Muammar Gaddafi proved this in Libya.

For those disheartened by Buhari’s incongruity, I have good news for you today: Nigeria will survive Buhari and return to that path of a peaceful, brotherly and loving country. We have less than two months to go.

Source: First published in Thisday Newspaper

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